Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 127

The Russian Defense Ministry appeared to be the recipient of some rare good news yesterday. Despite Russia’s continuing financial crisis, President Boris Yeltsin told Defense Minister Igor Sergeev that the government would find the “considerable funds” needed for the reform of Russia’s armed forces. Yeltsin added that the government would somehow improve the difficult situation now facing the army and that it would give “the military everything that is needed to carry out the reform.” (Itar-Tass, July 1) Yeltsin’s apparent good news was augmented by a statement from Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko, who said that the government plans to raise wages for servicemen as of next January [1999]. He also denied reports that an income tax would be levied against military personnel. (Russian agencies, July 1)

Severe funding cuts, together with chronic wage arrears, have been an important factor in the Russian army’s continuing decay. Plummeting living standards have led thousands of officers–many of them young and talented–to resign their commissions and leave the armed forces. Meager funding has likewise made it difficult for the military to attract either new junior officers to replace those who have departed, or the quality volunteers needed to fill key NCO and technical specialist positions. Current Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev has repeatedly warned that effective military reform in Russia is impossible without sufficient funding. He has been far more circumspect in voicing his concerns, however, than were his predecessors. The degree to which Yeltsin fulfills the pledge he made yesterday will be one indication of whether Sergeev is to reap any rewards for his political loyalty to the president.